17 April 2011
Egyptians opened their eyes last Wednesday morning to news that Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal Mubarak had been detained amid investigations into corruption and state violence. On Tuesday they had been taken for questioning by Major General Mohammed al-Khatib, head of provincial security in South Sinai. Maj Gen Khatib said the Mubaraks would be held for 15 days pending investigation.
Hosni Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest in their private villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh since he stepped down on 11 February following an 18-day uprising against his rule.
The former president was taken to hospital on Tuesday after reportedly suffering heart problems but, later in the day it was announced that, even though he was well enough to undergo further questioning it had to be done while he was under medical supervision. The prosecutor-general Mahomoud Abdel-Megid decided to pursue the questioning of Mr Mubarak at the Sharm al-Sheikh International Hospital where he remains. But the Mubarak brothers were moved to prison in Cairo.
The elder son Alaa is a well-known businessman, and his brother Gamal, was once widely seen as a possible successor to his father as president.
Prosecutors are investigating the killing of hundreds of protesters and allegations of corruption under Mr Mubarak’s 30-year rule. He was banned from leaving the country, along with his sons and their wives, and the family’s assets have been frozen.
The first public declaration made by Mubarak and aired exclusively on the Saudi Al-Arabiya News Channel last Sunday, had had the country in an uproar.
Mr Mubarak, 82, denied any wrongdoing and claimed he had been the victim of a smear campaign. His reputation and that of his sons, he said, had been damaged, and he would work to clear their names. He said he retained his right to take legal action against those who libelled him and his family. The former president said he was ready to assist any investigation into his family’s alleged assets abroad.
“The unjust campaigns and false allegations which have been levelled at me and my family, with the objective of smearing my reputation, integrity, political stances and military history, have been—and still are—the cause of tremendous pain for every one of us,” Mr Mubarak said.
In his speech, the former president said he only possessed a single account in an Egyptian bank and held property only in Egypt. He said he would agree in writing, if requested, to allow the prosecutor-general to contact other countries to investigate whether he or his wife owned, or had owned since the beginning of his military and political career, any accounts or property abroad. His aim, he said was “to prove to the people that their former president only owns domestically according to previous financial disclosure”.
Assem al-Gohary, head of the illegal profits apparatus, maintained that Mr Mubarak’s statement had no impact on the ongoing investigations, since the assigned judicial committee had already been studying reports by various authorities about the former president and his family’s wealth.
A common question asked was: why Al-Arabiya? Why was not Mr Mubarak’s statement broadcast by any Egyptian TV channel? Editor-in-chief of the quarterly Al-Dimuqratiya (Democracy) Hala Mustafa told Watani that it was not surprising that Mr Mubarak would have his statement broadcast by Al-Arabiya, considering the warm relations he enjoyed with the Saudi ruling house. One media figure who asked to remain anonymous said it was not surprising that the former president’s statement was not broadcast on any Egyptian channel: no channel today can risk the public censure of being branded as pro-Mubarak.
While many in the media described the statement as a provocation, Dr Mustafa does not see it as such. “In my opinion,” she said, “It was an expression of self-defence by a former president. His promise to take legal action against those who smeared his reputation is an exercise of a legal right available to all citizens.”
More important, Dr Mustafa said, was that the legal procedures for investigating the former president and his family’s wealth were taking place as planned.
The prosecutor-general, according to Dr Mustafa, has contacted foreign states, including the US, to inform them that the Mubaraks may have converted their wealth into gold and solid assets.
“This is not the first statement by the former president,” the writer Salah Eissa and editor-in-chief of the weekly Al-Qahira told Watani. Since he stepped down, Mr Mubarak made several statements which were reported in the media concerning claims about allegations of his inflated wealth. Mr Mubarak’s pledge to facilitate the legal authorities’ investigation of his wealth, Mr Eissa noted, makes the complicated procedure easier.
Public response to the detention news varied.
Reactions to Mr Mubarak’s statement varied. Some people saw it as an attempt to pacify the public and address the silent majority, while others considered it a defence tactic by a former president in a critical situation.
Some two-thirds of the comments online described the statement as a provocation, believing that the former president is running the country from Sharm al-Sheikh, plotting for a counter-revolution. Talk about his money and wealth, in their opinion, was meant to divert the people’s attention from his political crimes.
For a third of the online comments, Mubarak is a loyal citizen who loves Egypt and is, by his statement, denying suspicions about him and his family
One comment posted on the www.youm7.com read: “Mubarak is the best president Egypt has ever had”. Others applauded the former president’s statement, and said he was a respectable man who never ran away from Egypt. “Mubarak, who is one of the great heroes of the October 1973 War, is honest and loyal to the homeland and the Egyptian people; he never attempted to kill any of them.”
…and on Facebook
Even before the former president made his statement, Facebook groups had been forming calling for his return. Egypt’s young people who mobilised for the 25 January revolution through Facebook have again resorted to that most popular social networking channel to rally for another campaign. Whether through personal Facebook pages or groups such as “The million-person 25 April demonstration demanding a Mubarak comeback” and “The corrective revolution is coming on 25 April”. The campaigners invited others to join and to spread the word, warning those who fear for their lives to stay away since, they wrote, they expected a facedown with Mubarak opponents. They promised they would have Mubarak back by his birthday on 4 May.
Predictably, Mubarak opponents fought back. “It does not do me any honour to be on that pro-Mubarak hypocritical page,” one visitor wrote. Another page rallied: “Together we will burn any person who tries to honour the ousted one.”
Reported by Mervat Ayoub, Erin Moussa, Injy Samy, Milad Zaky